London fashion designer apologizes after Saudi-flag miniskirt controversy

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London-based Nigerian fashion designer Mowalola Ogunlesi has apologized after stirring a backlash online for showcasing a miniskirt with a print of the Saudi Arabian flag in her Spring 2024 collection at London Fashion Week on Friday.

The Mowalola collection contained various flags as miniskirts, including those of China, the UK and Japan. Saudi Arabia’s flag features the Shahada, the Islamic oath, which says: “there is no god but God; Mohammed is the messenger of God.”

Major Arab and Muslim fashion accounts urged the fashion distributor FarFetch to halt sales of Mowalola items, threatening to boycott the company. FarFetch has a large customer base in the Middle East.

The Saudi skirt in question has been removed from the collection. Mowalola also debuted skirts made from other national flags, as shown here. - Courtesy Mowalola
The Saudi skirt in question has been removed from the collection. Mowalola also debuted skirts made from other national flags, as shown here. - Courtesy Mowalola

Ogunlesi initially mocked the controversy on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“A mini skirt being an act of war in 2023 is so dystopian,” according to a screenshot posted by the Couture is Beyond account on X. “Cry me a river,” says another.

The designer later deleted posts and apologized for “hurt or offense” her designs caused.

“After the show, I found that one of these flags - Saudi Arabia - features sacred words, and its use has caused great offense. Now that I’ve been educated on this topic, I sincerely apologise for this,” Ogunlesi said on X.

“Thank you for holding me accountable, and I appreciate your understanding as I learn from this experience,” she added.

The Saudi flag is not typically printed on clothing out of respect for the holy inscription. The Saudi Ministry of Commerce banned businesses from using it for commercial purposes in 2022, according to Saudi media. The Saudi flag is never flown at half-staff at times of national mourning anywhere in the world.

Users on X criticized the design in posts and comments, calling it “disrespectful” and “offensive.”

This miniskirt isn’t the first time Mowalola has used religious symbols in designs. The brand frequently used the crucifix in its Spring 2023 collection.

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